The almost cartoonishly dark themes Helnwein explores are rooted in the artist’s bleak childhood in postwar Vienna. Helnwein felt completely isolated. “The world I lived in, I didn’t want to be there. I thought, ‘these people are strangers,’ even my parents…. I didn’t feel I belonged there.”
Helnwein describes his discovery of Walt Disney comic books as his salvation – his first glimpse of a world in which he actually wanted to live. He cites Carl Barks’ Donald Duck comics as a lifelong inspiration – a debt he has repaid by bringing Disney characters into his work many times over the years. A large and ominous Mickey Mouse looms out of Annunciation (Mouse 12), and Donald Duck features in several of the paintings on display in the show.